Human Resources News & Insights

5 ways to help an employee going through a hard time

Try as we might, sometimes keeping work and personal issues separate is impossible. 

And when an employee is struggling due to a sick family member or recent divorce, it can be tough to know exactly how to help.

The right balance

It’s up to HR pros to be both compassionate and professional — to be empathetic, yet keep everything running smoothly. It can be a tricky balance to strike.

But Harvard Business Review contributor Carolyn O’Hara shared five things HR pros should do to help an employee going through a personal crisis:

  1. Build solid relationships. Employees aren’t going to want to tell you about their personal problems unless they feel comfortable. Focus on making connections with employees and promoting a culture of compassion, and they’ll come to you when something’s wrong. Plus, the better you know your employees, the easier it’ll be to tell when someone seems to be struggling.
  2. Don’t ask too many questions. It’s important not to pry too much into personal matters — remember, you’re not their shrink. Just ask for the information you need to know, and let the employee keep the rest private.
  3. Listen, then speak. You may be tempted to interrupt the employee to offer a solution, but don’t. Listen to everything they say to make sure you’re on the same page, then ask, “How can we support you?” The employee might already have something in mind. You don’t want to hastily suggest a leave of absence if that’s not what the employee had in mind.
  4. Know what you can offer. You might want to give the employee leave or the ability to work from home … but can you? Make sure you know your company’s policies and restrictions on leave or other assistance you could give. If you’re unsure about something you can offer the employee, explain you’ll need to check and get back to them.
  5. Check in regularly. Even if you and the employee have come to a solution, it’s important to follow up. This can be face to face or in a brief email. Try something like, “Do you feel like you’ve got a handle on everything?” Remind them to keep in touch and to come to you if any more issues pop up.
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